01:12 - Source: HLN
She created Mother's Day, later regretted it

Editor’s Note: Tess Taylor is the author of the poetry collections “Work & Days” and “The Forage House.” Her third book of poetry, “Rift Zone,” will be out next spring. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. Read more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

When I was a new mother (my oldest was maybe 18 months) I read two self-help books – itself an accomplishment, because that year, when my husband was also seriously ill, was an extremely hard one.

Tess Taylor

To be honest, I usually veer away from the terrain of self-help. But the books seemed to offer wisdom about how to be a mom in America now. They wormed their way in, felt directed at me, ambitious and trying to juggle it all.

I read “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg’s push for new moms not to give up, keep climbing, work harder – not to slow down as we tried to have kids, not to slow down at all after we had them.

My other indulgence, conversely, was called “Zero Waste Home.” By lifestyle guru Bea Johnson, it focused on the domestic, on one woman’s mission to save the world by eliminating one disposable item at a time from her waste stream, until all her objects were in glass bottles, upcycled, plastic-free. Johnson did her mothering amid farmers’ market bags, compostable toothbrushes, foraged berries and homemade muffins crafted with bulk-aisle goods.

I’ve been thinking about those two books as another Mother’s Day rolls around, as moms across America celebrate perhaps with a pedicure, a card or breakfast in bed. And I’ve been thinking about all moms do the rest of the time, and also how both books might well have been titled “I changed the world through workaholic perfectionism (and you should too!)” I have to say: I am good with hard work and saving the planet. But some Mother’s Day I want all of us to wake up into a society that supports us all more while we try.

The problem is individualist workaholic perfectionism

I mean, at first I liked these books, their peppy exhortations to try harder. But then a piece of each them began to get on my nerves. Sandberg’s battle cry was that women must not slow down. Slowing down would be submitting to the patriarchy! It was our duty to will ourselves to work harder, to show men that we could show up! Someday, we’d reach a pinnacle of success, at which point, we’d be able change the very culture that kept us working like demons to get there. By then, if we couldn’t take care of our homes, children, errands or the Earth, we could hire people to do that for us. Heck, we could even hire people to put our plastic-free, bulk-aisle purchases in glass jars. (No mention of the labor conditions of those hired into such tasks.)

On the home front, I could hear Johnson setting up unrealistic expectations as well. Couldn’t we all just be more “mindful”? Eliminate one more prewrapped item? Roast our own chickens instead of picking up premade ones at the market? Pick out classic-but-on-trend pieces at a consignment store instead of hitting “press send” on items from Amazon or Target or J. Crew? Wouldn’t we all take time to perform an environmental Marie Kondo to our lives (and our kids’ stuff) so that we could live in perfect minimalist happiness? (I challenge any working parent who has to get a toddler through a supermarket at 5 o clock on a Tuesday: How does adding seven or eight refillable glass bottles to the mix sound to you? How about when you imagine one of them filled with slippery olive oil?)

For the record: I want to succeed in my field, and I also want to save the Earth. I actually refilled my olive oil jar last week. Women (and mothers) should be in the boardroom, the editor’s chair, the director’s chair, the judge’s bench and – while we’re at it – the presidency of the United States. We should get plastic out of the ocean, toxins out of our grounds and streams, lead out of the drinking water of any child.

But this frame of change as arising out of my own individualist workaholic perfectionism? I realized: I am so done with that. I realized I hate how the messages in these books embody so much of what women – and mothers – get told in this culture: that we have to do it all – by ourselves. That it’s our responsibility to push harder, that it’s our fault when we haven’t climbed the ladder, made tenure or partner. That we have to be change agents of home and workplace and planet at once. That change is about just choosing to work a little harder in our personal lives, rather than calling out the system that is holding us back, naming the ways we need support, figuring out how we need to be working with and for each other.

Perhaps being so busy pushing also keeps us from stopping to notice how we’re handed certain kinds of raw deals along the way. I’m talking about our 70 cents to the dollar; I’m talking about our “no time to heal, stash your baby under your desk” family leave policies; I’m talking about our “if you fail in our late capitalist society you could die on the street” system of health care. I am all for glass bottles, but I want decent maternity leave and actual decent pre- and (gasp!) postpartum care. I am all for getting back to work, but I want living wages for working jobs and decent, affordable child care that doesn’t bankrupt me when I go out and try to save the boardroom, or the planet, or make enough money to pay rent and get food in my kids’ mouths. By the way, I would really like to make enough money to pay rent and get food in my kids’ mouths.

Lean in. Lean out. What I want most is to be able to lean, and know I’ll have support

Which is to say: I want greater equality in the workplace and cleaner, greener, healthier options for every single one of us. But I am just so done with the idea that any of us can personally will these things. We may have to fight and organize and vote for them; we may need to run for office or support people who are. We may need to add a bit of candidate research to my already full schedule, but I also am so tired of pretending that this is something any one of us do on our own.

Because whatever kind of job I am doing, I would like infrastructure that supports my family. I’d like to work hard, but I’d also like a work culture that doesn’t penalize any parent for taking vacation, or time for kids’ dental appointments. I’d like a health care system that wasn’t at once expensive, byzantine and time-consuming to use. I would love to put my kids in safe, excellent, responsive schools where I felt secure that they could grow up free from gun violence. I love eliminating one plastic bottle at a time, but I want actual legislation to address, say, climate change. And I’d love my city to have a truly safe bike lane and good public transit, at which point I could stay fit and get my kid to school faster while saving the Earth as I do it. I guess what I’m saying the book I’d like to read (or write!) is: WE DO IT TOGETHER: MOMS, WOMEN and HUMANS GENERALLY CHANGE THE WORLD BY ADVOCATING FOR THE VULNERABLE AND CRAFTING MORE HUMANE LIVES FOR EVERYONE.

This Mother’s Day, yes, I’m excited to hang with my kids and my sister and my mom – we’ll cook brunch and go for a bike ride. Maybe in the afternoon I’ll read some and (here’s a real utopia for you) take a nap. What I’d love is to pass a Mother’s Day in a world in which kids, moms, families, human beings are more supported by society and their government. A hilarious woman, Sarah Buckley Friedberg, wrote on Facebook that she’s tired of the ridiculous expectations. She’s ready to lean out, and I get it. I think what I want most is just to be able to lean, and feel like there are decent structures to support me – whether I want to work harder, whether I need to rest. I actually believe the world I’m describing is possible.

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    I know certain horrendous politicians like to distract us with their maelstrom of corruption and bad choices and ugly rhetoric. But it’s Mother’s Day, so I prefer just to refocus today on what I want, what I’d like to lean toward: a society in which we take excellent care of ourselves, our children, each other and the planet. And then, I’d like us all to be able to lean out, lean back and get a bit of rest, too.